Friday, November 28, 2014

The Holidays at Union Station: Norwegian Christmas Tree & Train Display

Date of Visit: November 28, 2014

As Mik's first holiday season living in the D.C. area, I told him we have to check out several things. The train display at Union Station is the one we decided to do first; because I the Botanic Gardens has more to see and seeing this one after would be kind of anticlimactic.

Unfortunately, despite the website saying the train display starts today it was not running, yet. You could look at the display; but still disappointing to not have the train to watch.

We did at least stop and see the Norwegian Christmas tree right outside the entrance and Mik was even a good sport about posing in front  of it for a holiday photo of him.

Overall slightly disappointing; but still a good outing; because Mik enjoyed a sweet cheese danish from Au Bon Pain.

Also, we discovered that Union Station is definitely a Metro stop to avoid when using the power chair, which thankfully was not the chair he decided to use today. Not that he hasn't run over my feet navigating the Metro before; but the awkward elevator from the Metro entrance into Union Station would guarantee my feet getting run over and/or him being totally unable to navigate out of the elevator. Basically it's one of the smallest Metro station elevators we have been in and on top of that you enter on one side and the exit door is on the adjacent wall. Thus, there is little room for turning and you cannot just do a back in or back out maneuver that you can do in small elevators with just one door.

Destination Info:

The Holidays at Union Station
50 Massachusetts Ave NE
Washington, DC 20002

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Great Falls Park: Patowmack Canal and Visitor Center

Date of Visit: November 9, 2014

Today we visited Great Falls Park as a family as a fall colors outing. Fall colors wise it was disappointing as it was kind of too late for most of that for that area, which we did not expect because in our area of Alexandria this week it only just started to seem like it was really peaking. However, it was still good fall weather and a fun place to check out. Of course, getting some National Park stamps is always a plus, too

We did the part of the Patowmack Canal trail from the Visitor Center past the three overlooks. The first overlook is not accessible, but the other two are. The second one has a ramp next to the stairs and the third is on same level as trail.

The second overlook was a little hard for Mik to view the falls from due to the wood railings. On the north part there is an area that goes down from the main viewing area and by putting Mik several yards back from the railing and facing that way he could see the falls.

The third overlook was the best view for Mik, as part of the lower viewing area has a clear railing section similar to what we've seen at ballparks.

After the last overlook we decided to return to Visitor Center and car as Mik's feet were cold. We crossed over at the picnic area to take the Old Carriage Road trail back to the Visitor Center for some different scenery. (Yeah, we really need to get him some real winter boots, as that's twice this week he has been less adventurous due to cold feet and it's not even winter, yet).

Mik enjoyed the exhibits in the Visitor Center, especially the 3D model map of the falls area. There are also exhibits about the areas history including Native Americans, the American Revolution, and tourism.

Check out the Hiking part of the park's website here for good details on the wheelchair accessibility difficulty levels of the trails.

Destination Info:
Great Falls Park - part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway National Park Unit, also on Potomac Heritage Trail
9200 Old Dominion Drive
McLean, VA 22102

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Washington Monument

Date of Visit: November 4, 2014

For years we have been wanting to go up the Washington Monument again. First it was under renovation and then it had to be repaired after the 2011 earthquake. Now for months it has been reopened and we finally got settled in enough to make plans to go see it, which seems to require about a week to ten days in advance when you look at next available when reserving tickets online rather than getting them day of and risk having to wait a long for your tour time.

Our tour time was 11:30. They have benches and signs pointing which one to sit on as a line for your tour time. They only let people go in as people come out; so the tour time doesn't really mean when you will get in. For example, they didn't even start with the 11:30 ticket holders until 11:45. It isn't bad and they have a good system with the benches compared; but Mik wished he had worn warmer clothes, especially shoes, since it was windy and colder than he expected sitting up by the Monument.

To go in with a wheelchair one of the rangers has to unlock a gate so you go in the exit. The entrance looks accessible; but it is a security checkpoint, so they have you go in the exit to be screened by the end of the security.

Once done with security you get in line to go up the elevator. This is one of the coolest parts of the monument in our opinion, as the floor has interesting mosaics.

At the top there are windows looking out from the North, East, South, and West. However, they were too high for Mik to see from his wheelchair. We actually knew this was an issue as we did the tour back in 2006. However, that time they had this periscope thing and Mik was able to see some stuff. It wasn't perfect as the lens were somewhat scratched up; but it was more fun than just seeing the photos above the windows that show the view.

After you are done at the observation level those that can't do stairs wait for the elevator to return with a new group and then ride down to the museum level. This level has a few interesting displays mostly about the building and repair work of the monument. This level is where you get in line to ride the elevator back down.

The ride down is interesting if you can get close enough to the doors, as at two points the lights in the elevator darken and the lights in the shaft allow you to see some of the stones donated by various states and groups. Unfortunately, we got stuck dead in the middle of the elevator and couldn't really see them.

At the end we exited the same place we came in with the wheelchair. For most people, you then exit through a turnstile; but we had to get back through the locked gate. The park ranger wasn't paying attention and I was about to go out the turnstile to ask him to open the gate when a security guard brought it to his attention that we were waiting to get out. I get the security aspect of locking it and it was a minor inconvenience; but it is also the only fire exit and seems like that gate shouldn't have a lock during operating hours.

And, of course, we also stopped at the Washington Monument Bookstore for a National Park stamp. We just got the monument one, since we have the rest and didn't go to any other memorials/monuments today. Since Mik remembers hating the close quarters inside, he stayed outside; but actually there was only one other person in there and he could've gone through it easily if he had wanted to.

Overall not a bad outing; but Mik was rather disappointed. He doesn't really remember the other time we took him to the top of the monument; but I have been telling him about the periscope and he has been looking forward to doing it again for years. Not being able to enjoy the view even through a crappy periscope was a major disappointment for him.

Destination Info:
Washington Monument
2 15th St. NW
Washington, DC

Thursday, October 23, 2014

National Archives

Date of Visit: October 23, 2014

The main reason we visited the National Archives was because we had thought there was a War of 1812 exhibit there closing soon. Apparently, we were wrong or somehow we totally missed it. However, in the half a dozen times I have visited the Archives I have always found there is great temporary exhibit in the Lawrence F. O'Brien Gallery and the current one definitely did not disappoint us.

The exhibit is called  "Making Their Mark: Stories Through Signatures." It features a variety of items that feature signatures including sports items given to Presidents (Lakers jersey and Giants World Series bat), letters to Presidents from other famous people (Johnny Cash, etc.), and laws. There is also an interesting part about electronic signatures and duplication machines.

Of course, you cannot go to the Archives and not also go through the Rotunda, which is wheelchair accessible through the exit. Seeing the original Declaration of Independence and Constitution is nice; but Mik's favorite part is actually the murals. Also, he was much more impressed by the Declaration of Independence being engraved inside the elevator doors and he has declared them his new favorite elevator doors (so I guess he's solved his dilemma with the Huntsville Airport elevator ranking).

Destination Info:
National Archives
Constitution Ave NW (between 7th & 9th Avenue)
Washington, DC

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Disney Fantasy Caribbean Cruise: Day 7 – See Ya’ Real Soon Dinner at Animator’s Palate

Date of Visit: October 3, 2014

On our last night and second evening at Animator's Palate we got to see how it really is different dining in the newer Animator's Palate. The concept of drawing a character and them coming to life at the end of the evening is definitely interesting. The cartoons and music playing on the screens during the meal is also nice, but they are also too much entertainment and Mik kept forgetting to eat his food because he was mesmerized by the clips from Disney movies and cartoons.

Mik tried the evening's non-alcoholic specialty drink called Kissss. He was surprised he liked it so much as he normally doesn't like pomegranate.

He enjoyed the Macaroni Cheese and Baked Potato Soup course.

For the main course he enjoyed the Roasted Filet of Beef Wellington. He did not like the mushroom puff pastry outside, but it was easy to avoid that part.

Mik loves finishing the cruises with the Baked Alaska dessert, although it was somewhat disappointed that they did not parade out with the cakes flaming like ever other Disney Cruise we've been on.

Disney Fantasy Caribbean Cruise: Day 5 – Pirate Dinner at Royal Court

Date of Visit: October 1, 2014

Mik enjoyed the Pirates Golden “Pot Stickers” as his appetizer.

He had the Caribbean-style Conch Chowder for the soup/salad course, which he didn’t particularly like.

For the main course he had The Dutchmen’s Dijon Crusted Sirloin of Beef, which he enjoyed as usual. He was not sure about getting it because it came with sweet potatoes, but we said he did not have to eat those. However, he tried them and for once he actually liked sweet potatoes.

For dessert he had his typical sundae. This time it was the Crunch Time Sundae. He wasn’t sure about the rum raisin ice cream part, but he enjoyed it because he mostly tasted the pineapple.

He also enjoyed my birthday mousse cake, which he had been looking forward to and claimed way back when we booked this cruise when we were on our last cruise in June 2013.

Disney Fantasy Caribbean Cruise: Day 5 – Guardians of the Galaxy 3D in Walt Disney Theater

Date of Visit: October 1, 2014

Mik mostly stuck to enjoying the stateroom and watching the on demand movies in the room this trip; but the one thing that excited him was the opportunity to see the Guardians of the Galaxy 3D movie. The movie was shown in the Walt Disney Theater as the evening show.

Dad noticed there were some wheelchair spots in the lower section and instead of asking how to get there he just took Mik down the steps, which really is not that hard, but seriously why would there be spots down there if there was not an accessible way to get down there. Of course, there is and after the show they asked and had to wait for someone to come that had the keys and could take them the accessible route out, which involves calling the bridge to go through some waterlock doors and going through crew quarters. Definitely worthwhile, though, as Mik was able to see the whole screen and really enjoy the movie unlike when we sat at the top of the theater to see Monsters University on the Magic.